on 23 May 2007
This film was made during the war by Powell and Pressburger and more accurately represents the attitudes and aspirations of people at that period than any of the "war" films about WW2 made afterwards.
It was also made with a view to strengthening the ties between Britain and her hard-pressed allies in occupied Holland. It shows a typical bomber crew of young men drawn from very different backgrounds in Britain who, but for the war, might never have met but are bonded by a common purpose. When they are shot down in occupied Holland the heroic populace come to their rescue; misunderstandings are cleared, trust is formed, friendships are established, even love and romance blossom. It is well-paced and very exciting but without the mindless machine-gun spraying that flooded later films. These young men had to use their brains and nerves to get them through. The script is sharp: it is an intelligent film which suceeds at many levels. I won't spoil the ending for you but this is one of the most authentic pieces of purposeful film making I've ever seen and has great charm.
Two very famous scenes from it are worth a mention. One is the German Officer inspecting the congregation of the church during the sermon (a young Peter Ustinov - wonderful as the priest) when the airmen are hiding amongst their Dutch friends. The organist rebelliously plays a few notes of the Dutch national anthem quietly with his feet on the pedals which only the congretation will recognise. The German officer pauses in the doorway as he hesitates before leaving and his reflection is held in the organist's mirror. It is a beautiful, classic moment in film-making. The other is the scene in the Dutch mayor's dining hall where a fake wedding reception is being given. The black and white marble flooring give it a pictoral distinction but it is the naughty little dutch boy who swaps the german soldiers' records for a full collection of the Dutch national anthem who steals the scene!
The beautiful pearly quality of the Powell and Pressburger black and white film is also, I think, at its best in this film. As always the hallmark of their filming is the concentration on the faces of the characters so that we connect properly with them and their feelings. It was really all filmed in England but Lincolnshire has much in common with the landscapes of Holland as you will see if, as I strongly recommend, you buy this exceptional film. This introduced me to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's films and I have been hooked ever since. If you only ever have one war film in your collection make it this one!
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, released in 1942, was the first film Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made after formalizing their partnership as The Archers, with both taking equal credit for writing, producing and directing. In 1941 they had collaborated on The 49th Parallel. In 1943 they would make The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the first of a series of masterpieces they created in the Forties. In practice, Powell directed, Pressburger wrote and did most of the producing, and they closely collaborated on every aspect of their films.
The movie tells the story of the crewmen who bailed out of their bomber, B for Bertie, over The Netherlands in 1941. Even more, it tells the story of the Dutch men and women who endangered their own lives to give the crew shelter, to protect them and to pass them on to the North coast of Holland until rescue could be arranged.
Bertie, a two-engine bomber, is returning from a run over Stuttgart when it's hit by flak. The plane loses an engine but the crew nurse the plane along until the second engine stutters out over Holland. The six-man crew bail out. Five land together; one is missing. There is John Haggard (Hugh Burden), the pilot and the youngest; Tom Earnshaw (Eric Portman), the co-pilot, a Yorkshire businessman before the war; Frank Shelley (Hugh Williams), the navigator, a West End actor with a famous wife; Bob Ashley (Emrys Jones), the radio operator, a soccer star; Geoff Hickman (Bernard Miles), the front gunner, an owner of an auto garage; and George Corbett (Godfrey Tearle), the rear gunner, at least twenty-five years older than the others, a knight, a member of parliament who immediately signed up with the Royal Air Force when war was declared.
The crew, which is shortly reunited, now must trust the men and women of Holland. With one clever ruse after another they finally arrive at a house on the edge of the North Sea, owned by a woman who professes hatred of the English. She runs fishing boats and has the town's German detachment headquartered in her home. Eventually, in the middle of a British bombing attack, she will take them down to her basement, put them in a row boat, have one of her fishing boats meet them and take them to a German rescue buoy bobbing in the middle of the North Sea. There is a radio in the buoy. With a little luck the crew will be picked up by a British ship before a German ship arrives. She has done this before.
At each step of the crew's journey through Holland they meet more men and women who will put their lives at risk for the crew. The Dutch know who they are and protect them. The Germans suspect there is a British crew about, but can't find them. We meet a burgomeister (Hay Petrie) whose young son plays a dangerous trick on the Germans, a young priest (Peter Ustinov), a brave church organist (Alec Clunes) and a frightened Dutch collaborator (Robert Helpmann). At each step the situations grow increasingly tense and dangerous.
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing is a propaganda movie. It is precisely because Powell and Pressburger were so unwilling to do the ordinary and the expected that it holds up very well nearly 65 years later. For instance...
--There is no phony derring do or heroics. The Dutch get the job done in threatening situations, but with bravery that is understated. The crew know their lives depend on these men and women and learn quickly to do as they are told.
--We hardly see a German. And we never see a ranting, raving German officer or an enlisted goon. The German threat hangs over the movie, but it is made more effective by being subtle.
--The class consciousness of many British war movies, with the officers brave and well bred and the working class enlisted men often used for comic relief, is muted. All members of the crew have their own characteristics. All are members of the same team.
--The bravest of the Dutch, the most resourceful and the ones with the iciest nerves, are the women. From Else Meertens (Pamela Brown), a schoolteacher in a small community, to Jo de Vries (Googie Withers), who plays a risky double game with the Germans and owns the fishing boats, it is the women to whom the crew owe their salvation.
--There is no musical score. What we hear is wind rushing by, boots marching, the creak of windmills, water lapping at a stone pier and, often, just silence. Only a director as sure of himself as Powell could get away without using music to cue us what to feel.
--As tense as many of the situations are, Powell and Pressburger never shy away from humor in unlikely situations. It works because it allows us to know the characters better and to let us catch our breath before another dangerous scene starts. And they are sly. You have to be quick (or read a couple of reviews, which is what I did) to catch at least two puns they throw into the action.
--The opening, and especially the closing, is typically quirky and satisfying. I won't even try to describe them.
The movie was dedicated to the members of the Dutch resistance. We last see the crew getting ready to board their new bomber, this one a big four-engine job. Their target? Berlin.
The Region 2 DVD available from Amazon UK is not perfect (the picture is a bit soft) but the film looks much better than any VHS version out and is well worth buying.
Following in the wake of the previous year's highly acclaimed 49th Parallel, this 1942 follow-up wartime tale by master film-makers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Archers) is another engaging (and rather original) piece of story-telling. As the film title clearly signals, here we follow the attempts of six RAF airmen as they try to navigate their way out of the occupied Netherlands following the ditching of their Wellington bomber (code-named B for Bertie), it having been hit by German flak following a bombing raid over Stuttgart. Although, for me, the film is not in the same league as their later masterworks (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, Colonel Blimp, etc), particularly from a visual perspective, it is still an absorbing work, featuring some spectacular black-and-white photography (particularly the air- and sea-borne footage) by Ronald Neame, and including a witty and perceptive script from the duo (for which they received an Oscar nomination - incredibly the only Oscar nomination that Powell ever received).
What, for me, OOOAIM showcases most effectively is the period camaraderie and banter between the six shot down crew members. In particular, each of Godfrey Tearle's aristocratic, gunner Sir George Corbett (the film's ultimate hero), and Hugh Burden and Bernard Miles' equally well-spoken gunner Geoff Hickman and pilot John Haggard (respectively) provide a nice contrast with Frank Shelley's more down to earth Welshman and navigator, Hugh Williams, and Eric Portman's dour Yorkshireman and co-pilot, Tom Earnshaw, (despite being a Halifax-born man, Portman, if anything, here slightly overdoes his 'whippet-breeding credentials'). Their pre-bombing mission banter (very much of the 'cabbage crates' and 'old man' this and 'old man' that-type) then takes a back seat as tensions mount during the impressive bombing scenes and subsequently when, on gathering together in the Dutch countryside, they are initially at a loss as to how to organise themselves. Following some initial suspicions, the five crew members (one having gone missing) are taken in by the locals, initially led by a typically seductive Pamela Brown as school teacher Els Meertens, following which they being to plan their escape route back to Blighty.
The film-makers strike an effective balance between having their (often British-born) Dutch characters speaking Dutch before lapsing into (pigeon) English to convey important plot points. In addition to the always reliable Brown, Peter Ustinov makes a solid film debut as a priest, whilst each of Robert Helpmann as the blustering Dutch collaborator De Jong, and Googie Withers as the calm, determined, feigning collaborator, Jo De Vries ('These Dutch girls are wizard'), who latterly helps the reunited six in their escape attempt, are outstanding. Although, it could be argued, the film meanders a little in its middle third, the sense of tension is palpable during the final boat-truck-boat flight, as the two sets of allies seek to defy their Nazi adversaries.
As with most films of this period and on this subject, there are elements of (perhaps now dated) jingoism in the dialogue, but this does not, for me, overly detract from what is another skilfully made and engaging Archers film.
on 16 May 2006
An excellent little war movie, made during the war its about a crew of a Wellington Bomber that gets shot down while on a bombing raid.
It follows the crew as they travel with the help of the resistance across enemy occupied territory and try to get back to blighty.
If you like films like the Dambusters, Wooden Horse and Angels One Five you'll like this.
I bought this DVD following purchase of a box set of other Powell-Pressburger movies. I was so impressed with them, that I started to seek out others.
`One of Our Aircraft Is Missing' was one of their earliest collaborations (1942), and features some other famous names in the list of technical crew, such as editor David Lean and DoP Ronald Neame. The opening shots show plane flying with no crew, like an aerial Marie Celeste, and one wonders whether this was suggested to Powell and Pressburger by David Lean.
We then cut for the next twenty minutes to seeing an aircrew engaging in what was presumably a very realistic night bombing raid over Stuttgart. On the plane's return over Germany one of the engines gets knocked out, and the aircrew have to jump out over Holland ...
In fact the whole film has an air of realism despite the odd speech for wartime propaganda purposes. The only criticism I can make is that the night scenes at the film's end were clearly shot in the day.
The film is also famous for being the first full feature in which Peter Ustinov appeared. He plays a Dutch priest, and even then had the power to use his face to say more than words can, especially when the Germans enter during the church service.
Alas, my copy has no extras.
on 13 August 2010
Quite an inspiring look at how a bomber crew might have coped if forced to bail out over enemy territory during the war - shows how the Dutch people were facing up to hte Nazis and also the bravery required to be part of a bomber crew.
I am old enough to have seen this when it was first released! What no revuer mentions was the optimism the film conveyed. Of course it was propaganda but that does not lessen the impact it had. You cannot look at films likr this and criticise the standard comparing it to P and B's later and more arty work. Watch this excellent film for what it is. The story is well laid out in previous reviews.
on 22 August 2012
The film is old but at the time it was made I think a lot of people would say it was very true to life.
I think it shows there were more hero's then just those that fly aircraft in the war, those that looked after flyers that were brought down in enemy territory.
on 6 May 2010
Wonderful wartime film! Full of bracing speeches and propaganda and a great story to boot! a must see.
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing is a British propaganda film from 1941; leaving aside the propaganda aspects, it is a well-made motion picture that was nominated for best original screenplay as well as best special effects at the 1942 American Academy Awards (Casablanca took best picture). It also did quite well at the box office. The British bomber Bertie takes a hit during a nighttime bombing raid over Stuttgart, Germany, and her six-man RAF crew is forced to parachute to safety over German-occupied Dutch territory. Five of the men are discovered by some friendly children and are taken to town where an English-speaking schoolteacher helps facilitate their escape. The men are furtively passed along the sixty or so miles to the North Sea through a veritable underground railroad of Dutch resistance, eventually linking up with the pilot they feared had been lost. Interestingly, the most heroic assistance comes from women like the schoolteacher Els Mertens and the truly remarkable Jo de Vries. De Vries supposedly hates the British for having killed her husband in an air raid and works closely with the local German forces whom she secretly despises; this makes her the perfect final contact for the English airmen seeking to return home by sea. The final stages of the great escape do prove somewhat harrowing, but the RAF men do honor to the ancient creed of "being British" throughout the most dangerous moments. De Vries delivers a stirring ovation for the resistance and war efforts, and any Englishman or American who didn't already hate the Germans would have been more than willing to take up arms immediately and rush off to The Netherlands to free this remarkable woman and her friends in the Dutch resistance from Hitler's nefarious grip. One of the more interesting aspects of the film has to do with the Dutch resistance in general; the Dutch have a way of obeying German orders in a way that never fails to get under the occupying soldiers' skins. One of Our Aircraft Is Missing proves that propaganda can sometimes have a completely positive connotation, and the story itself is well-presented and quite timeless in its appeal.